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Adamowski: Special Ed is further in red; site directors will be cut

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk’s new superintendent of schools, in his first address on the clock Tuesday to the Board of Education, laid out two pieces of bad news and sought to dispel an urban legend.

Norwalk’s Special Education program is further in the red than thought when the 2015-16 school budget was approved last month, Steven Adamowski said, announcing that he is going to ask the state Department of Education to audit Norwalk’s SPED. The money that was expected to fund 10 curriculum and site instructional directors did not come through, he said. But a rumor that there are an unusually high number of District 99 children who are not assigned is not true, he said, calling it an “urban legend.”

That last piece came with a suggestion to the Board: Consider giving the parents of the South Norwalk District 99 children Columbus Magnet School as a first choice in the 2016-17 school year.

The audit and a possible contract with the State Education Resource Center (SERC) would allow a new Special Education director, when hired, to implement a plan rather than spend the first six months on the job ferreting out the issues, Adamowski said.

“It appears that we have more extensive issues in Special Education than were previously known or reported,” Adamowski said. “I feel these fall into three broad categories. The first is that there may in fact be further cost overruns for outside placements that were determined in the past school year that were not converted to contracts.”

Maureen Ruby, who is leaving her job here as a literacy specialist and interim Special Education director, studied the department and came up with this information, Adamowski said.

Contracts were not given to the business office, Adamowski said:

  • IEP decisions for outside placements have not been converted into contracts so you don’t know the price, but it appears to be significant additional liability in that area.
  • There appear to be some areas of the Special Ed budget that were reduced, where caseloads for ’15-’16 do not warrant the reduction or caseloads have changed in the interim area of time.
  • Several program areas may be out of compliance or do not reflect best practice or embrace the concept of the least restrictive environment for children.

The causes are complex, he said, but, “My impression at this point is these issues are systematic in nature and beyond dealing with them one at a time.”

BoE member Mike Barbis asked Adamowski if he could define the magnitude of the Special Education cost. Adamowski said he was reluctant to do so.

“There are a set of liabilities that appear to be somewhere in the range of $1 to $2 million, but there are also students coming back from outside placements that have also not been considered,” Adamowski said. “Those will provide some offset in savings. There is also a bit of confusion around the extent to which some of these liabilities may have involved an existing contract.”

Finding a replacement for former Special Education Director Christine Fensore will be difficult, Adamowski said.

“This is a very hard area to fill,” he said. “Of the areas of durational shortage, it is the greatest in Connecticut. It is the number one shortage area.”

Of 167 districts, 16 had vacancies or temporary special education directors, he said.

Although he may need to appoint someone from within to fill in for a short while, he has reached out statewide and found some good possibilities for a new director, he said.

“In many of these issues you get different versions of a story, depending on who you talk to. You really need someone with expertise in this area… I am optimistic at this point that we may be able to attract an outstanding person. They will come from another district. This is a job that requires someone with expertise.”

 

CISDs

BoE CISD
A handout from Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski.

Norwalk will only be able to fund seven curriculum and site instructional directors, Adamowski said, although former Norwalk interim Superintendent of Schools James Connelly said at the last meeting that 10 directors could be funded.

This goes back to the loss of a Dalio Foundation grant that funded the positions. Connelly had been told that the state’s Priority School District grant would fund the CISDs, but the state has “affected a rescission of 8.5 percent” of that grant, Adamowski said. It’s impossible to use the grant for the positions now, he said.

“To do so without that 8.5 percent would involve cutting other positions,” Adamowski said. “There are a number of teaching positions – this is quite unusual in my experience – but there are a number of teaching positions that are partially or wholly funded on that grant. … These are fundamental positions. They are not generally positions that would be funded with a Priority School District grant.”

He announced a system for splitting up the seven CISDs based on the size of the schools; Jefferson and Kendall Elementary Schools will get a fulltime CISD, while Brookside, Cranbury and Marvin will get a .8-time CISD, Adamowski said.

BoE CISD 2
A handout from Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski.

“(That’s) as close as I can get in a coherent manner that would allow the sharing of these positions at these schools,” Adamowski said.

Next year the district has to look at funding fulltime assistant principals at Kendall and Jefferson, he said.

The positions may be used in a slightly different way than Dalio understood them, he said, rattling off, “literacy program,” “core knowledge,” and a “more effective implementation of mClass reading, K-3 assessments,” as well as a “more effective and consistent evaluation of teachers in the building.”

The statewide standard is 20 to 25 teachers to one administrator for evaluations to be done well, he said.

BoE enrollments
A handout from Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski.

“Without proper staffing of a school to do that, the principal simply runs around, spending all their time on the evaluating systems and cannot run the school and cannot address the other organizational aspects of it.”

Two central office positions may be consolidated into one within the next couple of weeks, which would free up some money to help deal with the situation, he said.

 

District 99

“There’s been some churn and discussion in the community, and urban legend has it that there are 300 unassigned 99s,” Adamowski said. “For someone new to the district this is a mystery.”

District 99 children live in an area of South Norwalk that does not have a home school.

There aren’t 300 children who aren’t going to a neighborhood school, but 160, Adamowski said, and of that, the majority are out-of-attendance-area requests, not District 99 children. They’re incoming kindergartners.

“You don’t have these large numbers of students who need to be placed every year,” he said.

Of 114 out-of-area requests, only 35 are new and 79 are renewals, he said. The district practice of having parents reapply every year should be discontinued, he said.

District 99 children have all been assigned, he said, but there may be children registering late or moving in.

“I don’t think that having a policy in which there are a group of families who are assigned to a school by Aug. 15 and don’t even have a choice in expressing what school they want to go to, simply are assigned, I don’t think that meets the standard that we want for all our families,” Adamowski said.

And it may change.

“Consider that, beginning in ’16-’17,  the kindergarten students from area that has no school be given first preference in the magnet school lottery in March, rather than involuntary assignment by Aug. 15,” Adamowski said. “This puts the parents in the position of choosing. I think it enhances our magnet programs in their historic traditional role of providing a basis for voluntary desegregation of choice. I think it frankly treats these families as more valued clients than the current practice may.”

Comments

26 responses to “Adamowski: Special Ed is further in red; site directors will be cut”

  1. Susan Wallerstein

    Impressive analysis & recommendations.

  2. Brenda Wilcox Williams

    Note that Norwalk currently has 3 magnet programs at the elementary level — in addition to Columbus as the article mentions, Jefferson Science Magnet and the Mano a Mano dual language program at Silvermine are also part of the annual lottery.

  3. CC

    Wow He’s no joke!

  4. Who would’ve guessed

    “Consider giving the parents of the South Norwalk District 99 children Columbus Magnet School as a first choice in the 2016-17 school year.”

    I agree! Give it to them!

  5. Considering that Dr. Adamowski has been on the job for a total of five days, this is an impressive start. He is demonstrating the qualities of strong leadership that drew the Board majority to support him as superintendent.

  6. MarjorieM

    There are a number of teaching positions – this is quite unusual in my experience – but there are a number of teaching positions that are partially or wholly funded on that grant. … These are fundamental positions. They are not generally positions that would be funded with a Priority School District”

    A nice way of saying these positions were illegally funded by State regulations?

    The same thing happened with After the Bell funds. Title 1 funds were going to be illegally used until there was a whistleblower.

    Perhaps other grant fundied positions need to be looked at next, Dr. Adamowski.

    Someone was playing with State and federal funds!

    Great job, sir! I am impressed with your findings!

  7. Lisa Thomson

    Delighted!

  8. C.G.

    I’m not sure I entirely understand the logic of potentially allowing all district 99 children at Columbus. After a few years, would it not revert back to a neighborhood school?

  9. MarjorieM

    “Contracts were not given to the business office, Adamowski said:” (Special Ed)

    What a disaster! It appears that the Special Ed Director was in way over her head! Who hired this person?

  10. Brenda Wilcox Williams

    The remarks on future placement of students who do not have an assigned school was not specific to Columbus. The discussion is about potentially giving those families from unassigned addresses first preference in the District’s March lottery, for openings at any NPS magnet programs.

  11. Lifelong Teacher

    To Brenda Wilcox Williams, to say that Jefferson is part of the ‘magnet lottery’ is really not accurate. If you look back, it has been many years since there was any type of lottery for incoming kindergarten students and only siblings of current students and teachers’ children have come in kindergarten. A few parents apply for a very small number of vacancies in the upper grades.

  12. Marj, “unusual” doesn’t mean “illegal”. Nor were any funds used illegally regarding the After the Bell program; it was approved by the State until former Dep. Superintendent Daddona made an unauthorized call to the State and talked them into reversing their position and undermining Dr. Rivera. Fortunately, Interim Superintendent Connelly was able to change the program to comply with the State’s reversed position.

    Special education has been a mess in Norwalk for many, many years, long before Ms. Fensore took over last year. Dr. Rivera was the first superintendent in living memory to start any effort to correct the problems (see https://nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/12/riveras-plan-to-hire-special-ed-teachers-would-save-money), and as your own fav superintendent, Jim Connelly, noted, this issue of cost overruns is national in scope (https://nancyonnorwalk.com/2015/05/connelly-norwalk-is-not-alone-in-special-education-crisis), not something attributable to one (now-departed) department head in Norwalk.

    As I noted above, it is extremely impressive and a good omen for the future that Dr. Adamowski has tackled three significant issues in only five days on the job. His proposal to bring in auditors and get to the bottom of the SPED issues quickly seems right on the money to me.

    The overwhelming news about the Norwalk Public Schools is positive, but there are still significant issues here that need addressing with firmness, and Dr. Adamowski is proving himself up to the job.

  13. LWitherspoon

    Dr. Adamowski sounds to this layperson like a solution-oriented administrator with a strong grasp of issues. His in-state experience will serve Norwalk well. Best of luck to Dr. Adamowski and the BoE as you work to improve Norwalk schools.

  14. Kevin Di Mauro

    @Mike Lyons

    Please correct me if I am wrong, but I thought you had adopted a new policy of not replying to NoN commentators who don’t reveal their real identity. Why are you still wasting your valuable time with people like MarjorieM?

  15. MarjorieM

    Mike, federal law is federal law. No one is able to change the law. A lottery that includes both children who qualify and who don’t qualify for Title 1 funds is illegal. Produce the letter from Dr. Rivera stating that he could use Title 1funds using a lottery. We haven’t seen it yet!

    P.S. Since when is it unauthorized for a deputy superintendent to call the State Department? If Daddona hadn’t called the State, he would have been in trouble after Rivera left for allowing federal funds to be used illegally.

    Show us the Rivera letter, Mike!

  16. Lifelong Teacher

    MarjorieM, you’re a riot. There is so much the deputy could be ‘in trouble for’ that one couldn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Mike Lyons isn’t going to play your game, respond to anonymous goading, and drag it out here.

    It’s done. He’s gone, and doesn’t have insider info to feed you OR the three board members in an effort to undermine yet another superintendent. And thankfully, this one looks strong enough for the job.

  17. John Hamlin

    Encouraging start. Very encouraging.

  18. MarjorieM

    Lifelong Teacher, you don’t know how wrong you are! BTW, does Mike Lyons need your protection?

    I am still asking Mike for the Rivera letter from the SDE regarding the lottery for After the Bell.

  19. Bill

    Great to see someone so eloquent and well versed in education management. Great job with this hire Mike Lyons.

  20. C.G.

    Silvermine and Jefferson have a magnet component, however they are both still neighborhood schools and I guess now Columbus will eventually become the same.

  21. Sue Haynie

    @Hamlin, agree, very encouraging start. Kudos to the Board of Ed.

    As a former NPS special ed parent for 13 years, I concur, it’s been a big mess for a very long time.

    Efforts to improve SPED began with Dr. Marks who commissioned CREC ’12, (in spite of pushback) as a follow up to the ‘08 report. . The report highlighted the lack of progress.

    PPS Dir. Smith developed a plan for an in-house Pre-K program for children w/autism that mirrors the one currently in the works.

    And, they significantly improved parent engagement, usually an afterthought: Parent Advisory Committee w/monthly meetings, website, monthly presentations with experts, etc.

    Glad to see there’ll be a State audit.

  22. MarjorieM

    What is the point of a .2 Site Director? Does that mean s/he visits a school one day a week? What can be accomplished one day a week?

  23. Kevin – sorry, a momentary lapse. 🙂

    Bill – thanks! Dr. Adamowski is the real deal.

  24. MarjorieM

    Looks like there is no Rivera letter from the State Department granting him Title 1 funds for After the Bell using a lottery!

  25. MarjorieM

    Mike, the funding used legally for the After the Bell program was transferred from local funds. Everyone knows that. You voted on that transfer at a Board meeting.

  26. Joanna Cooper

    Thank you to the BoE for hiring Dr. Adamowski! He is off to a great start tackling difficult issues head on. With these moves he inspires confidence. I admire his creativity!

    Great idea to invite the SDE to audit and assist with NPS SPED because it is such a challenging area of expertise and finding SPED experts (who will stay) is no easy task. It should be incredibly helpful for our next SPED leader in getting a handle on addressing “systemic” issues. Good to hear clarification on district 99 children and that they will have a choice to go to Columbus Magnet School. Many parents are excited by these developments! The way the site directors shortage was addressed is thoughtful and appears fair. It’s clear Dr. Adamowski does his homework and explains challenging subjects with simplicity. I get the feeling he is going to be a great leader for NPS. Dr. Adamowski, I wish you good luck!

    @ Mike Lyons
    Thank you for your leadership and tireless efforts to keep the public informed. However, I agree with Kevin and encourage you to stop reacting to boob bait from the bombats. It’s a waste of your energy and time.

    @ Marj M
    Meh, I’m so tired of your negativity, and your protection of the “status blows”. You take nasty pot shots at parents like Ms.Thomson, the former SPED directors and just about everyone else for that matter with exception of your “friends”. To say a .2 Site Director can’t accomplish anything one day a week is insulting. Specials teachers teach one day a week and they accomplish teaching their curriculum. You are a self proclaimed administrator (not from central office) noted in your previous comments on NoN. Your negativity is going to come back to haunt you eventually. You are the arsonist that blames the fire department. Isn’t it time for some positivity? With a new superintendent we all have an opportunity for a fresh start. Keep it up, and likely all you’ll be left holding are your poisonous grudges. It’s time to focus on students!

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